Assessing Participation

Well-designed student participation supports learning and engagement. It can build a sense of community, promote greater learner accountability, and increase interaction, preparation and motivation.

Benefits of assessing participation

  • The continuous aspect of assessing participation can improve information retention and identify gaps in students’ knowledge.
  • The provision of timely and useful participation task feedback can also provide the opportunity for students to absorb material and reflect on it over time (i.e., ‘spacing’, rather than cramming).
  • Assessing participation provides instructors with the means to reward engagement during the learning process, which can serve as a powerful incentive and motivator for students to stay on track with their studies.

Determining when it is appropriate to assess participation

Are students expected to do any of the following? If the answer to any of the following questions is yes, than it is likely that participation is a suitable assessment activity to add to your unit.

  • Assimilate and apply knowledge in a collaborative manner?
  • Discuss and communicate knowledge with each other?
  • Develop and demonstrate skills/knowledge in a written and/or spoken discourse?
  • Work in a team or group-based setting?
  • Provide constructive commentary and analysis?
  • Develop and demonstrate oral communication or other interpersonal skills?

Strategies to employ when assessing participation

Provide clear instructions

Provide clear instructions in the unit guide about the role of all participants in the assessable activity (this can include a description of different types of activity participants if required, eg. facilitator, observer, reviewer)

Use rubrics

Use a detailed rubric to assess participation in order to promote consistency and clarity during grading.

Ensure the unit guide contains clear instructions covering the following points:

WHY is participation being assessed? Why is it important in this unit, specifically?

WHAT is it about the learning outcomes that makes assessing participation important or appropriate?

WHERE will participation be assessed? Through which learning activities will participation and engagement be assessed? What are the explicit expectations of students with regards to participation?

HOW will participation be assessed? What are the criteria? What rubrics will be used? Who will be involved in the assessing?

WHAT tools and resources will be provided to students to assist them in preparing for, demonstrating their participation? (eg. participation preparation guide, response templates, exemplars).

Look at examples

Good practice abounds! Keep an eye out for what your colleagues are doing in assessing participation. Workshop your ideas and share them with colleagues. If you are unsure about your assessment design and implementation, you can always contact the Faculty of Arts Learning & Teaching Team, who can sit down with you and review your assessment.

Assess participation with student diversity in mind

Some students may feel anxious or uncomfortable contributing in a classroom or forum discussion. Conversely, some students may dominate discussions. Participation may not always be a reliable indication of students’ knowledge and skills.

Some tips to encourage participation with understanding, empathy and cultural sensitivity:

  • Open a discussion with prompts, rather than leaving it to students to initiate conversation. Have students take turns to comment, rather than leaving it to students to enter the discussion of their own accord.
  • For face-to-face discussions, install a digital ‘comment box’ for the classroom during discussions so students can submit their input that way instead of directly addressing the class.
  • The comment box can take the form of a simple Google doc, or can be a specific discussion forum set up for this specific purpose in iLearn. You can then refer to the collated online comments and include them during in-class discussions.
  • Allow students some reflection or ‘thinking time’ to write down their intended comments before inviting contributions in face-to-face discussions. Provide the prompts in advance, so students can prepare their responses.
  • Provide students with a guide on how you would like them to prepare for discussions before the come to a face-to-face class, or before they engage in online discussions. Making expectations explicit (e.g. via a discussion preparation guide or rubric) will alleviate students’ uncertainty and anxiety about participation assessment, and will promote more informed and targeted engagement.
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